July 12, 2014


 (CBS, September 14, 1968-January 4, 1969)

Hanna-Barbera Productions, Heatter-Quigley Productions

Daws Butler – Rock Slag, Big Gruesome, Red Max, Sergeant Blast, Peter Perfect, Rufus Ruffcut
Don Messick – Muttley, Gravel Slag, Little Gruesome, Professor Pat Pending, Ring-A-Ding, Sawtooth
John Stephenson – Luke, Blubber Bear
Janet Waldo – Penelope Pitstop
Paul Winchell – Dick Dastardly, Private Meekly, Clyde
Dave Willock - Narrator

            Racers, start your engines! CBS executive Fred Silverman sought to add comedy back into the superhero-dominated Saturday morning line-up and commissioned Hanna-Barbera to produce what would be the first of several race programs. Wacky Races featured a completely original cast of wacky characters in equally wacky vehicles competing for the title of World’s Wackiest Racer (think we have enough “wacky” in that one sentence?). Originally, the races were to be part of a proposed live-action quiz show by Heatter-Quigley Productions in which contestants would bet on which Wacky Racer would win. The quiz show was eventually scrapped, and the races developed to follow the characters to various areas as they competed in impossible races fraught with perils; both natural and by design.

     Let’s meet the racers:

            In car #9 was Peter Perfect (Daws Butler) in the Turbo Terrific. Peter was a good-looking gentleman with an obvious crush on fellow racer Penelope Pitstop (Janet Waldo). He drove a dragster that was anything but terrific as it was prone to falling apart in the middle of a race.

            In car #10 was Rufus Ruffcut (Butler) and his pet beaver Sawtooth (Don Messick) in the Buzzwagon. Rufus was a lumberjack whose theme carried over into his car, which was basically a wooden contraption with buzz saw wheels that allowed him to cut through most obstacles.

            In car #6 was the loud Sergeant Blast (Butler) and the meek Private Meekly (Paul Winchell) in the Army Surplus Special. Two soldiers driving a tank/jeep/steamroller hybrid who often used their cannon to give them an extra burst of power. Of course, the cannon could fire more than just explosive shells.

            In car #7 was the Ant Hill Mob and their Bulletproof Bomb. The Mob consisted of seven pint-size (and harmless) gangsters driving a 1920s limousine sedan. Often during races, they found a need to evade the police who chased them for their various crimes. 

            In car #3 was Professor Pat Pending (Messick) and his Convert-A-Car. This scientist’s car, which resembled a boat-shaped airplane with car wheels, could transform into any kind of vehicle or object and featured many defensive devices which were often used to help other racers out of jams.

            In car #5 was Penelope Pitstop and the Compact Pussycat. This Southern Belle, clad in 1930s racing gear, drove what was essentially a beauty parlor on wheels (whose gadgets often malfunctioned). As the lone female in the race, the male racers were often chivalrous towards her; especially the aforementioned Peter Perfect. Penelope was a last-minute addition to the show when producer Joseph Barbera realized that there were no women in the cast and thought it would be beneficial to have one. She was created within two hours by production designers Jerry Eisenberg and Iwao Takamoto.

            In car #1, fresh from the Stone Age, were the Slag Brothers in the Bouldermobile. Rock (Butler) and Gravel (Messick) Slag were hairy cavemen who hit their stone car, or each other, with their clubs in order to power it. Originally, there was meat to only be one caveman but it was decided by Joe Barbera to have two of them instead.

            In car # 2 were the Gruesome Twosome in the Creepy Coupe. The large Big (Butler) and diminutive vampire Little (Messick) Gruesome were a horror-themed pair who drove an equally horrific car. The Creepy Coupe was modeled after a 1920s hearse with a belfry, in which all manner of creatures dwelled and could be summoned to aid in the race.

            In car #4 was the Red Max (Butler) in the Crimson Haybailer. A parody of the Red Baron, he drove a car/bi-plane hybrid capable of extremely limited flight with a mounted machine gun that fired more than conventional bullets. 

            In car #8 were Luke and his pet, Blubbler Bear (both John Stephenson), in the Arkansas Chugabug. A hillbilly, Luke drove a “car” built from wood and powered by a pot-bellied stove. Luke often drove half-asleep with his feet on the wheel while the cowardly Blubber often lived up to his name.

            And bringing up the rear in #00, the Mean Machine, was Dick Dastardly (Winchell) and his dog, Muttley (Messick). The villainous pair stopped at nothing to ensure they would finish first by using dirty tricks and schemes to either divert or stop the other racers. However, these schemes often backfired and resulted in Dastardly falling into last place. The irony was that if Dastardly had just raced the races, he actually could have won as he always managed to get ahead of the others to set his diabolical traps.

Never accuse Dick Dastardly of being tack-less.

            Last but not least was the unseen character omnipresent in every episode: the narrator (Dave Willock). The narrator was utilized to help move the plot along and save on character exposition since the show dealt with so many. The narrator also interacted with the characters often as each would break the fourth wall to talk to him. 

Concept sketch for the Creepy Coupe and the Gruesome Twosome.

      The cars were all designed by Eisenberg, utilizing both his imagination and recall about something he might have seen before and putting them all together. Barbera would then look over the designs and either picked his favorite or combined elements he liked from each design into one final one. Each car possessed several special “modes” that allowed the racers to gain an edge on each other in a comedic fashion. For instance, the Ant Hill Mob could shift into “getaway mode” which included their lowering their feet to the ground and running to give the car more speed. 

The Wacky Races board game by Milton Bradley.

            Wacky Races debuted on September 14, 1968. The show ran for a single season from September 14, 1968-January 4, 1969 and continued in reruns until 1970. Larz Bourne, Tom Dagenais, Michael Maltese and Dalton Sandifer served as the series’ writers, with music provided by Hoyt Curtin. Despite the short run, the show was actually a success and became a springboard for future Hanna-Barbera projects. The Perils of Penelope Pitstop featuring Penelope and the Ant Hill Mob and Dastardly and Muttley in Their Flying Machines were both spun off from the show. Dastardly and Muttley would also later appear in 1985 in Yogi’s Treasure Hunt. Muttley’s appearance and speech pattern were recycled for a dog private-eye named Mumbly, who starred in the 1976 show The Mumbly Cartoon Show before going on to become a villain in Laff-A-Lympics. In 1977, the Slag Brothers’ design was recycled and refined into Captain Caveman for Captain Caveman and the Teen Angels. Blubber Bear would go on to appear in The New Yogi Bear Show in 1988. Even the concept itself was reused in 1978’s Yogi’s Space Race, right down to having a villain with a dog sidekick.

The Wacky Races Funko Pop figures.

Amongst the initial wave of merchandising for the show was a coloring book and sticker book by Whitman, a board game by Milton Bradley, a General Mills cereal premium, a die-cast car by Corgi featuring Dastardly and Muttley on what was supposed to be the Mean Machine (though it hardly looked like it) and a seven-issue comic book series by Gold Key Comics. In 1996, South American dairy company Parmalat offered a promotional set of Hanna-Barbera toy cars. Each car featured three characters, and three of them were modeled on the Compact Pussycat, the Creepy Coupe and the Mean Machine (only Penelope and Dastardly drove their respective vehicles). In 1997, Burger King released five of the racers as toys in the Kids Club meals. In 1998, Johnny Lightning released two die-cast versions of the Mean Machine and the Compact Pussycat complete with an animation cel. In 2003, Konami released a collection of trading figures and Epoch produced a miniature set that could like together to create a diorama scene. In 2006, McFarlane Toys released a figure diorama featuring Penelope and Muttley as part of their Hanna-Barbera series. In Japan, Takara Co., Ltd. produced Wacky Races merchandise, including pull-back cars as both a set and individually and a Muttley figure in an exploding bomb. Funko’s POP! line featured Dastardly, Muttley, Li’l Gruesome, Penelope and the Mean Machine with either Muttley or Dastardly driving, and eight of the respective characters were produced as vinyl dolls in their Fantastik Plastik line. Pop Arts Products made rubber keychains featuring Penelope, Dastardly and Muttley, and the Mean Machine.

The race continues!

A 2 ½ hour VHS collection was released in 1996 in the United Kingdom. In 2001, the series was released to DVD in Japan containing both Japanese and English audio. In Britain, the set was released exclusively through Virgin Megastores. In 2006, it was again released as an HMV exclusive. It was released in three volumes in Australia between 2005 and 2007. In 2012, two collections were released: Wacky Races: Dick Dastardly and Friends and Muttley and Friends. Warner Archive released the complete series in the United States in 2004 as part of their Hanna-Barbera Classics Collection, and then re-released it in 2017 as part of the Hanna-Barbera Diamond Collection. In 2012, Warner also released a collection called Hanna-Barbera 4 DVD Bumper Pack which contained the first volumes of Wacky Races, Dastardly & Muttley in their Flying Machines, Top Cat and Hong Kong Phooey.

Yogi and Boo Boo from Fender Bender 500.

            Wacky Races was revived as part of the 1990 syndicated series Wake, Rattle and Roll in a segment called Fender Bender 500. Dastardly and Muttley returned in a revamped Mean Machine monster truck dubbed the Dirty Truckster against a new line-up of Hanna-Barbera stars. In 1991, the first Wacky Races video games were released for the Nintendo Entertainment System, ZX Spectrum and Commodore 64. In 2000, a new game was released for Sega Dreamcast and later Sony Playstation 2 that reunited the surviving original voice cast while new actors filled in the other roles. In 2008, Wacky Races: Crash and Dash was released for the Wii and DS by Eidos Interactive.

In 2006, Cartoon Network commissioned a pilot called Wacky Races Forever which would feature updated versions of the Slag Brothers, Pat Pending, a teenaged Gruesome Twosome, and the children of Penelope (Kath Soucie) and Peter (Jeff Bennett) racing against Dastardly (Jim Cummings) and Muttley as they aided a new villain, Mr. Viceroy (Bennett), in trying to take over race sponsor Perfect Industries. The series, however, was not picked up. 

A more successful revival attempt was made in 2017 with a reboot created by Rebecca Himot and Tramm Wigzell. The 2D computer-animated series followed the same relative format as its predecessor, but often deviated from the races to go off on adventures in other time periods (like medieval times) or to explore the personal lives of the racers. Also, there was never a clear winner by the end of each episode. Returning racers were Dastardly (Peter Woodward) and Muttley (Billy West), Penelope (Nicole Parker), Peter (Diedrich Bader) and the Gruesome Twosome, Tiny (West) and Bella (Tom Kenny). Professor Pending was replaced by I.Q. Ickly (Jill Talley), a young boy genius who often didn’t participate in the races, and the unseen narrator was replaced by Brick Crashman (Christopher Judge). New characters were also introduced, including Pandora Pitstop (Parker), Penelope’s evil twin sister, and P.T. Barnstorm (Talley), owner and sponsor of the races. The show aired on Boomerang SVOD and Boomerang.

The cast of Wacky Raceland.

The year prior, Wacky Races made its return in the comic book mini-series Wacky Raceland by DC Comics. The series was part of the first wave of reimagined Hanna-Barbera properties. The series was notably darker than its cartoon counterpart, as it followed the racers through a post-apocalyptic world as they raced for their lives under the control of the mysterious “Announcer” to find Utopia, the last safe haven for mankind. The racers’ cars were also outfitted with an A.I. system, giving them a bit of autonomy when needed. The series was written by Ken Pontac and drawn by Lenoardo Manco

Dick Dastardly in real life.

           Wacky Races continues to live on outside of television, especially in other countries. Between 2000 and 2008, life-sized working replicas of the cars were built and exhibited at the Goodwood Festival of Speed in England. In 2006, car manufacturer Vauxhall utilized the theme song and lettering while having their Corsa cars double for the racers in a commercial, while in 2013 Peugeot utilized live actors and versions of their cars to advertise their 208 GTI model. The online MMORPG City of Heroes featured a story arc which had characters named after some of the racers. In the 2020 film Scoob!, an arcade machine featuring the Wacky Races “W” logo appeared on an arcade machine in an abandoned amusement park arcade.

            And the Winning Results:
            The Bulletproof Bomb – 4
            The Compact Pussycat – 4
            The Arkansas Chugabug – 4
            The Turbo Terrific – 4
            The Boulder Mobile – 3
            The Buzzwagon – 3
            The Creepy Coup – 3
            The Crimson Haybailer – 3
            The Convert-A-Car – 3
            The Army Surplus Special – 3
            The Mean Machine - 0

“See-Saw to Arkansas / Creepy Trip to Lemon Twist” (9/14/68) – Penelope and the Ant Hill Mob get lost. / The Racers find ghosts in a bar in a deserted town.

“Why oh Why Wyoming / Beat the Clock to Yellow Rock” (9/21/68) – The Racers encounter Native Americans. / Rangers search the Racers for missing bears and assume Blubber is one.

“Mish-Mash Missouri Dash / Idaho a Go-Go” (9/28/68) – Luke finds his cousin Elmer. / The Racers all crash and Penelope falls for Dastardly’s “Little Red Riding Hood” routine.

“Baja-Ha-Ha Race / Real Gone Ape” (10/5/68) – Dastardly stops the Racers with a mud hole. / Dastardly hypnotizes a gorilla to stop the Racers.

“Scout Scatter / Free Wheeling to Wheeling” (10/12/68) – The Ant Hill Mob disguises themselves as scouts to evade the police. / Dastardly uses construction equipment to stop the Racers.

“By Rollercoaster to Upsan Downs / The Speedy Arkansas Traveler” (10/19/68) – Dastardly leads the Racers to an abandoned amusement park. / The Racers end up in the middle of a war game.

“The Zippy Mississippi Race / Traffic Jambalaya” (1026/68) – The Racers encounter an angry plantation owner. / Dastardly convinces the Racers to search for a gorilla worth $50,000.

“Hot Race at Chillicothe / The Wrong Lumber Race” (11/2/68) – Dastardly and the Ant Hill Mob play baseball. / Dastardly uses various wood and saws to win the race.

“Rhode Island Road Race / The Great Cold Rush Race” (11/9/68) – Dastardly uses every advantage to try to win the race. / Dastardly dresses up as a snow monster to scare the others off.

“Wacky Race to Ripsaw / Oils Well That Ends Well” (11/16/68) – Dastardly stops Penelope with a roadside beauty parlor. / Dastardly is up to his old tricks in Grease Gun, Texas.

“Whizzin’ to Washington / The Dipsy Doodle Desert Derby” (11/23/68) – Dastardly disguises himself as a master of ceremonies. / Dastardly finds a genie in a bottle.

“Eeny, Miny, Missouri Go! / Super Silly Swamp Sprint” (11/30/68) – Dastardly leads the Racers into a whale’s belly. / Dastardly dresses up as an alligator to scare off the Racers.

 “The Dopey Dakota Derby / Dash to Delaware” (12/7/68) – Dastardly disguises himself as a bandit he resembles. / Dastardly coats the road with icing.

“Speeding for Smogland / Race Rally to Raleigh” (12/14/68) – Dastardly plots to use a movie set against the Racers. / Dastardly’s oil slick sends the Racers crashing into a farm.

“Ballpoint, Penn. Or Bust / Fast Track to Hackensack” (12/21/68) – Dastardly uses tacks to give everyone flats. / Dastardly changes the speed limit sign from 35 to 85 MPH.

“The Ski Resort Road Race / Overseas Hi-Way Race” (12/28/68) – Dastardly causes an avalanche and uses a ski jump to get ahead. / The Racers race over the bridge connecting the Florida Keys.

“Race to Racine / The Carlsbad Or Bust Bash” (1/4/69) – Muttley infiltrates the Ant Hill Mob. / Dastardly employs a caveman to stop the Racers.

Originally posted in 2014. Updated in 2023.

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